Kyle Maxey posted on January 21, 2014
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First described in a paper published in 2006, a new, seamless, flexible airplane wing could change the world of aerospace design if live flight tests this July prove successful.
In contemporary aerospace design wings are created with mechanical flaps that shift to help a craft climb during takeoff, remain aerodynamic while cruising, and generate more braking power during landings. While flaps perform these tasks admirably their design leads to inefficiencies as wind whistles through seams and across the rivets that link the mechanism to the wing. To some these forces seem negligible but, over the course of a flight, they can lead to major fuel inefficiencies.
To solve this problem Michagan-based FlexSys has created the FlexFoil, a seamless flap design that can be retrofitted onto planes, or built into newly manufactured wings.
Designed in a manner similar to a suspension bridge, the FlexFoil uses cables embedded in a wing to distribute pressure across the whole of its surface. As a plane’s wing requires a different geometry whether it be during takeoff, landing, cruising or banking the FlexFoil shifts into a new configuration by using computer algorithm controlled servos. As the servos tug the wing’s structure it shifts shape while remaining solid. Because of the wings seamless design FlexSys says airplanes can achieve between 8-12% greater fuel efficiency, a massive savings, particularly for an industry struggling with profitability.
Beyond its applications on airplane wings the FlexFoil could also be used to improve the performance of a number of other technologies including helicopter blades, ship rudders or any other surface that cuts needs to slice through a fluid medium.